Understanding the Skin from Ayurvedic Perspective
Ayurveda, the traditional Indian system of medicine, recognizes seven layers of the skin, each with a specific function. These seven layers rely on how the bodily tissues are formed.
Ayurveda teaches us that there is a sequence of tissue formation in the body:
Lymph Blood Muscles Fat Bone Nerves Reproductive organs
The Sanskrit terms for the tissues are Rasa, Rakta, Mamsa, Meda, Asthi, Majja, and Shukra, respectfully.
The first tissue created is lymph and plasma. The next tissue is blood. So, to create blood, the body needs lymph and plasma first. When the blood is formed, there are materials for muscle creation. The next step in tissue formation is fat, followed by bone formation. Only after this are there ingredients to form the nervous system, and the final step is the creation of reproductive organs. This means, for example, that to have healthy bone tissue (and the skin, nails, and hair are by-products of bone formation), all the previous tissues must be healthy. If lymph and plasma are not healthy, all other tissues cannot be in perfect condition.
Let me explain why I am giving here all these details.
To understand the root of any skin issue, we must determine what tissues are involved. This gives us a clue on how we will work on an imbalance.
Rasa (lymph, plasma) Rasa represents the element of water in the body. Probably you know about Ayurvedic energies called doshas: Vata, Pitta, and Kapha. When there is a lack of water in the body, Ayurveda says that Vata energy is in excess due to the dry quality of Vata. When we have dry skin, then there is a disturbance in Rasa. It might be caused by dehydration by not drinking enough water, overindulging in dry foods like chips or very spicy meals that tend to dry out water out of the body, or drinking too many dehydrating substances like coffee and caffeinated teas, or alcohol. However, many people drink plenty of water, but still, their skin is extremely dry. This might happen due to clogged sweat glands. When we sweat, the natural skin oil (sebum) is brought to the skin's surface through skin pores and lubricates the skin to help it keep moisture in it. When we age, we naturally begin to sweat less, which is one reason for skin dryness. Another cause is the disturbance in water metabolism. Western medicine does not have this system, but Ayurveda does. The system is called Ambuvaha and is related to water metabolism, including the function of the pancreas, adrenals, pituitary gland, kidneys, palate, and others. So, when we put too much work into these organs, the problems might be manifested through altered water metabolism. And as you see, the pituitary and adrenals are involved in the water metabolism process, meaning that stress can cause dryness in the body and the skin. Another cause of skin dryness is overusing soaps and exfoliants on the skin without using proper moisturizers. Doing this leads to a damaged protective mantle, which is the reason for the dry and tightening sensation in the skin. When this protective mantle is stripped, there is no barrier to protect the skin from excessive water evaporation and bacteria and viruses.
Rakta (blood and red blood cells) Rakta contains the fire element needed to keep the body warm and invigorate the tissues of the body. If you have had a chance to read about Ayurvedic doshas, you know that Pitta dosha is the only one that contains the fire element. So, any disturbance in the Rakta tissue is related to Pitta energy. Tissues closely related to Rakta are the red blood cells, blood vessels, liver, gallbladder, spleen, and tendons. When Rakta is disturbed, this creates inflammation (Pitta in excess) in the body, circulated by the blood. Manifestations of imbalanced Rakta in the skin are excess redness and inflamed lesions, including acne, rosacea, and broken capillaries. Common causes of imbalanced Rakta are taking in hot substances like hot spicy foods, alcohol, and very sour foods and being overexposed to heat and the sun. Heated emotions like anger, intensity, and criticism are also the cause. As the liver is one of the organs involved in blood creation, some liver imbalances might lead to inflammation. Because of this, we talk a lot about liver detox in Ayurveda. Another reason for inflammation in the body is damaged stomach and intestinal walls that can not function properly by secreting necessary enzymes to provide healthy digestion and protect the constituents in the intestines from leakage to the surrounding tissues. This creates inflammation and toxins formation. Rakta relies upon the health of Rasa, the lymph and plasma tissues. So, be sure that there is healthy water metabolism as a foundation for not only healthy Rasa but Rakta as well.
Mamsa (muscles) Mamsa tissue is composed primarily of earth, along with some water and fire elements, which belong to Kapha and Pitta. Its principal function is to protect and give strength to the body and the skin. When there is not enough earth element, muscle tissue will be diminished, causing the skin to lose its strength in the form of sagged skin. Lack of proteins in the diet or not healthy absorption of nutrients are the main cause of this case. Lack of fire element means low metabolism in the digestive system as well as in the muscle tissue causing the bad quality of muscle and connective tissue formation. Weak muscles and sagging skin are the indicators of the problem. If there is an imbalance in the creation of the previous tissues (Rasa and Rakta), the muscle tissue, including skin firmness, will also be affected. This means that proper water metabolism and digestion are required for healthy Mamsa in the form of firm skin and strong muscles under the skin.
Meda (fat) Meda, like Rasa, is composed primarily of water, thus presenting a water element in it. This tissue is present abundantly in the subcutaneous layer of the skin. One of the principal functions of Meda is to lubricate body tissues, including the skin. Whereas Rasa provides moistness, Meda provides oleation (oiliness). Therefore, the health of this tissue is essential for keeping the skin moist on a deeper than cutaneous level. A disturbance in Meda can be seen in deep cracks in eczema lesions or deep wrinkles. This happens due to altered water metabolism from an Ayurvedic perspective. The balanced state of this tissue is based upon the proper formation of Rasa, Rakta and Mamsa. or bodily water balance, blood circulation and muscles.
Asthi Asthi is composed of earth and air and is commonly translated as the body's bones. The earth element is needed to provide a framework for the body, including bones, nails, hair, teeth, and skin. These tissues' health depends on a balance of Vata (air element) and Kapha (earth element). Lack of the earth element in the form of calcium and excess air makes the skin thinner and sagging. As discussed above, the formation of the asthi tissue relies on the proper formation of Rasa, Rakta, Mamsa, and Meda. To have firmer skin, we need well hydrated cutaneous and subcutaneous skin layers, good blood circulation, enough muscle mass, and a healthy layer of fat. Probably you have had the experience that when you lost weight rapidly, your skin became sagged. Right food choices, good digestion, and nutrient absorption are the key to having firmer skin.
Majja Majja is commonly translated to mean the nervous system. Majja is composed of water and earth, the Kapha elements, that comprise a significant amount of fatty acids in the nerve tissue. The dermis has many nerves, including nerves responsible for the sense of touch, temperature, pressure, vibration, and pain. Disturbed Majja makes your skin overly sensitive and overreacting. Calming down the whole nervous system in the body helps to reduce skin sensitivity. As you can guess, having all the previously discussed tissues healthy is important to get your skin firmer and look younger.